We must straighten our backs…
Published Thursday, 30-Sep-2010 in issue 1188
We trusted that following conservative and STRAIGHT (for those Prop 8 supporters) Justice Phillips’ September 9th decision that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was unconstitutional on two counts, the Senate would vote to uphold the integrity of our Nation by voting for the repeal of this pathetic law. The House had done so in June, along with the Senate Armed Services Committee. Now, backed by an unconstitutionality ruling, certainly the Senate would end the ban once and for all.
Instead, on September 21st Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), a POW and a former hero to many of us veterans, single handedly obstructed justice with a filibuster. Sadly, the Senate could not muster 60 Senators willing to vote to override him.
No more than two days later as a devastated community tried to make sense of how the Senate could “vote not to vote” abandoning arguably our Nation’s most deserving demographic, men and women in uniform, the Department of Justice (under the instruction of President Obama) suggested it was preparing to do the same. On Sept. 23rd the DOJ filed its arguments claiming Justice Phillips’ plan to lift the ban herself was “untenable”.
Like so many others had been suggesting, I too felt it was time to turn over cars and shut down the streets, but whose?
Certainly not our Senators, they voted to lift the filibuster and support repeal. Not Congresswoman Davis’s, we would be nowhere on this cause if it was not for the Chairwoman of the House Armed Services Committee calling for the first hearing on DADT Repeal in 2008. Not San Diego’s streets; with a Republican Mayor who is a TRUE “fierce advocate” for our community with a City Council that voted to put the entire City of San Diego on the record as urging Congress and the President to repeal the ban. Not the District Court, it had ruled in our favor and not the Federal Court because the issue is not even before them.
Civil disobedience, although it is our civil right and one I have proudly participated in and continue to support, must be fairly targeted. Civil disobedience must be done in a fashion that increases our influence at the table, not in a way that forfeits our seat all together.
All I could think of was, “Organize! You have to organize, it is time.” But thankfully I sought out my mentors who helped me put in perspective that as a witness in the constitutionality challenge and with the possibility of the case ending up before the appeal court, I had to act responsibly against my better judgment.
The actions of Senator McCain in filibustering repeal language from the very same piece of legislation that brought it into law in 1993, of the senate failing to lift the filibuster and of the Justice Department having the audacity to argue for retention of an UNJUST law is shameful. These actions have legitimately created a frustration and anger amongst us that is perplexing and the question at hand is where we should invest this energy.
In an age before cell phones and Facebook Harvey Milk yelled into a microphone a call to action that deserves its immortality, “You gotta give them hope!”
In 2005, as I dedicated my life to searching for explosives in the Middle East, I was devastated to hear my personal hero General Peter Pace (the first Marine to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and highest ranking commissioned officer at the time) say that homosexuality was immoral during a television interview. This week I have been profoundly concerned with the welfare of our gay troops overseas. Men and women living in present danger watching, reading and listening as the Senate made it clear last week that their right to basic human dignity is not even worth a vote!
Let us never forget that our men and women in uniform serving in silence, war and in some instances under abuse are reading our articles, comments and blogs. Enough with the sarcasm, defeatism and in- fighting! Let us remember that this is not about us, this is about them. When we write let us imagine that a trooper contemplating suicide based on their individual hardships of serving in silence or abuse is reading our comments and work; because they are. This generation of veterans already has the highest level of suicide rates to begin with.
Tell them about how the Senate Majority Leader has vowed to call for a vote on repeal language in December when senators are more inclined to vote their conscience post election. Tell them about how many people you have convinced to call Senator Reid to keep his promise. Tell them there is more than one avenue to repeal with Justice Phillips’ ruling of the law being unconstitutional yet to be appealed by the Department of Justice and about how you are committed to calling both the President and the DOJ not to challenge the ruling. About how that would effectively lift the ban on them as well.
Frustrated to no end and unable to travel to Arizona or D.C. to protest I decided I would instead show solidarity with the troops. I committed to running the 6.2 mile Aids Run last Sunday in Desert Combat Uniform, boots and the American Flag. I hoped that this very simple gesture might inspire some to activism, but mostly I hoped some active duty members would see that THIS IS NOT OVER!!!
What I did not expect was how much it would affect me personally. Three miles into the run as I saw the first blood blot appear in the tan boot tip I began to feel those same feelings I did back in the Middle East and that so many of our troops are feeling today: pain, depletion and endlessness. Suddenly I was overcome with fear; would I not make it? Would I fail? As I approached the fifth mile I saw the most unexpected sight, a hearse with an adult size coffin in it. Instantly my knees went weak, my eyes teared up and I was overcome with sadness as I remembered kneeling over MA1 Valdivia’s coffin in the Middle East who took her life due to injustice.
Not coincidently, she was also the person who helped me learn to appreciate running (which I hate) as a discipline of challenging myself to overcome undesired obstacles. I knew that my noticing the coffin, when for most of the run I was staring at my boots telling them to lift one at a time, was not by accident. My sadness turned to rage. Rage at how MA1 was left to die, and rage over the glaring parallels to what Senator McCain, the Senate, and the Justice department are currently doing to our gay and lesbian troops.
As I approached the “Start” marker I mustered all the energy I had left thinking surely the end of the run would be at the same spot where we started. I had a moment of glorious triumph, similar to what the community felt when the House passed the repeal language in June. Just the same when I found out that the actual finish line was still nearly a mile away I thought to myself what so many of us thought the day of the Senate filibuster. “But I tried so hard, I gave everything I had, how can I possibly continue this fight when I burned out thinking this was the end.”
That’s when three straight former military (two Marines and a Soldier) USD ROTC colleagues of mine who had already finished their run appeared out of nowhere and ran the last stretch with me!
It was Dr King who said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and WORK for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”
Be for our troops in this battle what my straight veteran colleagues were for me during the last stretch of my run. Be the reason they keep faith. The only way the opposition will succeed in this or any injustice is if we give up on our ability to win.
Demand Senate Majority Leader Reid call for a vote on Repeal Language in December: D.C. Phone: 202-224-3542 Fax: 202-224-7327
Demand the President not allow the Department of Justice to defend an unconstitutional law: White House Switchboard: 202-456-1414. FAX: 202-456-2461
Demand the Justice Department NOT appeal the DADT ruling by Justice Phillips: DOJ DC Switchboard: 202-514-2000 FAX: 202.252.1001

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